Posts in lessons learned
What you aren't is part of who you are

When we were in the early stages of putting together Storybook Foundry, I met with everyone I could think of to get feedback from those who might use our products and services.  I got great feedback: “that’s so needed” was a phrase I heard over and over.

Then, I had coffee with someone who now is a VP of a multimillion dollar nonprofit.  He brings varied experiences to his current position and is one of those ‘gets things done’ people.  I was excited to hear his ideas about markets, efforts, and products that I hadn’t dreamed up yet.

But that’s not how the conversation went.  

I explained what the Storybook was--a collection of templates that were easy to use that allowed nonprofits to get everyone on the same ‘page.’  That unlike other consulting, there was an option for nonprofit leaders to do the majority of the heavy lifting themselves.

His response:  “I’d just pay a marketing firm a couple thousand dollars to do that.  I don’t have the time or interest in doing it myself.”

While I’m sure he meant to be helpful, it about killed me to hear that.  

Because I heard, “This idea is crap.  No one is going to want it.”

It didn’t help that at this moment in the process, we had hit other roadblocks and it felt like the business would never get off the ground. I’ll be honest, we almost threw in the towel.

But now this conversation is an important part of the Storybook Foundry story.  A turning point, even. This moment of criticism has become a sentiment that has helped Storybook Foundry hone its mission.

The reply to “I would just hire a marketing firm for a couple thousand dollars” is:

“You’re right.  YOU would do that.  But there are so many organizations out there that are running on shoe strings.  Organizations with only several part time staff, that rely on board members to write press releases and annual appeals because they don’t have a marketing or development department.  And there aren’t nearly enough things out there to help these scrappy nonprofits compete with organizations that have more at their disposal. And THAT is where Storybook Foundry comes in.”

I now know I was talking to the wrong audience.  Our clients aren’t multimillion dollar organizations.  Our clients are organizations with $50,000-$250,000 budgets.  Our clients are nonprofits that are scraping together $2,000 for a development consultant that want to get the most out of their investment.  Our clients are those who don’t have a marketing firm on retainer.

I now know that what felt like a blow was actually an affirmation we were on the right track.  

What have you learned your organization isn't and how has that helped you define what you are? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

And if you haven’t thought much about it, give our Words to Avoid template process a try.

Just Pretty Isn't Enough

I learned almost everything I know about nonprofit management, marketing, and design by doing it.  And by doing it, I mean screwing it up and having someone tell me. And then doing it better next time.  

Like the time we sent an appeal letter that was just signed “The board of X.”  I know! Cringe worthy, right? Just one of the times I had someone kindly point out mistakes that made me better at what I do.  

But today’s lesson-learned-the-hard-way story is about emails.

Right after I started my first nonprofit job, I was so excited to send my first email to our email list.  I was just an associate, but was promoting a program I was working on. I was given the log on information for our Constant Contact account.  So, I logged on and figured out how to format an email. I thought it looked pretty nice. It had a nice blue/yellow color scheme, a nice picture, and clear text.  So out it went.

I think the email even had a pretty good open and click rate.  “Success!” I thought.

The company’s marketing and design contractor had a different opinion.  This particular contractor would often tell us we should have him do things or run things by him before sending, printing, etc.  And to some extent he was right. His stuff looked better than our stuff. But there wasn’t always money or time for that.

But he was right on this one.

“Who sent this email out?” he asked next time we all met.  I said I did. He, with some frustration, asked, “Where did you get those colors?  Why doesn’t it have a logo on it? And what the hell is up with this font?”*

Not the kindest of feedback, but when I looked at the email again, I knew he was right.  Nothing besides the “from” email address said that email was ours.

Even though it looked pretty great by itself.

Pretty is not enough.

I learned my lesson the hard way.  And helped that company create templates in Constant Contact that had our logo and colors so it’d be easier to be consistent moving forward, no matter who was creating emails.

Now, I have a Brand Quick Reference that has all my colors, fonts, and logos in one document.  And I have that saved multiple places so it’s always quick to open.  Plus printed copies that travel in my planner and are posted by my desk.  If I had been provided with such a document all those years ago, that first email would have looked a lot better.  Which is exactly why I created the Storybook Foundry, to help your those on your team avoid those missteps and keep your organization looking professional and consistent.

What lessons have you learned the hard way?  What one page piece would you create to help others from making the same mistake?